The path to success with BNI Crossroads Portlaoise
'Givers Gain' is the guiding principle of BNI, a global business referral organisation that has acquired more than 288,188 members in over 10,695 BNI chapters around the world since it was founded in 1985.
The Portlaoise chapter, BNI Crossroads Portlaoise, was launched on May 1st, 2011, and since then has generated €17,002,872 for its members. Last year saw revenue of €2,474,604, while to date in 2022 there has been €2,312,245 generated.
A collective of local businesses committed to the shared vision of growth through cooperation and interpersonal links, BNI Crossroads Portlaoise is as much an avenue for social networking as it is a prime source of revenue-building. Currently comprising 14 members, all strive to root out leads for each other, adhering to the philosophy that those who give will receive in return.
"Givers Gain is a trademark BNI value," says Chapter President Breda Colgan, of Salutem Advisory & Training. "I've always believed that you get out of something what you put into it. The more you put into your membership and the more involved you become with the group, the better returns you get from it. Since taking on the President's role, I have got to know the members so well. In return, I've seen a huge increase in the volume of referrals that I have got."
The benefits of cooperation are also outlined by John Kelly, of JK Autos, who highlights the role reciprocity plays in all BNI relations.
"I've always approached the group with the mentality of not looking to see what you can get out of it but what you can bring to the table," says John. "As a direct result, once you start giving people business, you start getting it back in return. I'm fortunate that we're very strong, but just as businesses gave me a dig out when I was starting up, I feel that it's my obligation to help others."
The group meets one Tuesday morning a month in the Maldron Hotel, with the remainder of their weekly meetings taking place online. Each member is afforded 60 seconds to make a pitch about their business and request specific referrals from their fellow members. These referrals can be general, such as casting the net wide over a broad commercial sector, or they can be a specific request.
"The 60-second pitch is an introduction of your business and what work you're currently doing, what differentiates you from others in the same field, and what contacts you're looking for," says Brendan Whelan, of The Office Centre. "You can be specific so people in the room know what you're looking for."
Alma Wallace, of Permanent TSB, says the 60-second pitch is a chance to talk uninterrupted about what you do.
"You're getting your best points out and it's tailormade towards what area you want to target for the week ahead," Alma says.
There is also a weekly slot where one member is afforded the chance to make a presentation that goes into more depth than the standard 60-second pitch, with visual slides and video clips adding extra flavour.
"The presentation is six minutes, and it gives you time to be more detailed about what you do," explains Brendan. "You're able to expand on the main points of your business or touch on one certain aspect and go through that."
A member from the beginning of Crossroads, Brendan is a vocal advocate of how BNI can help grow revenue.
"I highly recommend it, as you get out of it what you put into it. It's swings and roundabouts and it does work, if you put in the work, you will get it back," he says.
Alma concurs, saying, "I recommend it 110% and I am constantly promoting it, because we have a great circle of trust built in. I know if I give a lead, they'll treat the customer the way I'd treat a customer."
The importance of building relationships is something Frank Cullinan of Aston Lark Ireland has learned during his time in BNI, as the connections he has made have helped him deliver greater value to his clients.
"The trust between the members grows as you get to know each other and this allows us to give recommendations and make introductions to our friends, family, and business connections," says Frank.
Frank explains that the establishing of relationships is best achieved through one-to-ones, which are get-togethers between individual members that take place outside of the more formal setting of the meetings.
"Taking the time to sit down and find out about someone's business is a great way of generating referrals for one another," says Frank.
Another local company that has found BNI Crossroads Portlaoise to be very influential in their growth is VIMAR Digital Marketing Ltd.
"Building relationships with stakeholders has allowed me to access connections that were not possible before we invested in networking," says director of VIMAR, Alastair Roe. "Those relationships have enabled professional development and helped guide us forward. Getting back to in-person meetings has brought great energy to the group and I feel that the group will only grow and thrive in the year ahead."
Although the networking opportunities afforded by in-person meetings can strengthen working relationships, John Oxley, of Oxley Systems and Services Ltd, believes there are certain advantages to the group's online meetings, which began in response to Covid restrictions.
"I prefer online meetings. I did my BNI meeting last week on Zoom from Mayo, so if that had been in person, I would have had to have missed the meeting," he says, adding: "What I like is developing your network and growing the amount of people you know. If I recommend someone in my chapter, they can recommend me."
This concept of mutual recommendation is what BNI is built on, with all members encouraged to actively seek out potential sales for their chapter colleagues in the form of referrals.
"Referrals are the lifeblood of BNI, they're the heartbeat of it," says Ruth Mathews, of RCM Services, a sentiment echoed by Christine O'Gorman, Corporate HR Ireland, who describes referrals as "the bread and butter of BNI".
"When members of the chapter build relationships together, that trust that you're referring them on with comes with that," says Ruth. "If I get a referral, nine times out of ten it's actually for continuous work. It's not just one-off work. It's the same for any kind of service industry. I got a referral a year and a half ago that was just bookkeeping work, but it turned into one of my main weekly clients."
Likewise, Christine says that she passes on referrals because she knows the person she is recommending is good at their job. She has witnessed first-hand the benefits of a good referral.
"I'm currently in the process of pricing a job from a referral and hopefully we will get the work. It is a very good company, very responsive and very cooperative, so it is easier for me that I am not chasing or cold calling," says Christine.
BNI is structured on exclusivity of business types, with only one per field able to join each chapter. That is why BNI Crossroads Portlaoise has only one web designer, one architect, one fire safety expert, etc, which protects sales opportunities by ensuring there is no competition between the members of the same chapter.
But far from being a closed circle, visitors and guests are welcome to attend meetings and deliver a pitch, so long as there is no commercial conflict of interest between them and any of the existing members.
"The group is very welcoming to guests and visitors, as we all know it can be quite daunting to attend a network meeting and not know anyone," says Celine Cole, Cole Planning & Design Ltd. "We make all our guests and visitors feel at home and introduce them to other contacts who they could potentially do business with.”
Chapter Vice President Arpad Szocs, of Pandora Marketing Solutions Ltd, illustrates how supportive BNI can be towards anyone just starting out.
"As a new company owner, only recently moved to Portlaoise, my position wasn't easy to start with. BNI has given me access to a group of other entrepreneurs and business owners, as well as access to their contacts," says Arpad. "That, in my opinion, was greatly helpful to getting my business where it is today, and I am very grateful for all the opportunities that come from BNI, either through a fellow member or the contact of a member."
The newest member to the chapter is John Cloney, of John Cloney Fire Safety Consultancy, who came on board last November. He appreciates the support he has received from the community since joining.
"I would recommend it to people who want to build up business relationships within the midlands. I have met a number of other professionals within the construction and property sector through BNI," says John.
Dave Devery, NetSupport, is Secretary Treasurer, ensuring that the chapter's finances are shipshape and membership dues are up to date. To him, an important BNI core value is accountability.
"It's imperative that we hold each other accountable each week when it comes to chapter attendance, following up on referrals and bringing visitors to the meeting. When each member contributes to the group by bringing a positive contribution each week, the chapter progresses and achieves success," says Dave.
Positivity is another core value of BNI, with a positive mental attitude a key trait for any entrepreneur to have.
"No matter what part of business you're dealing with, you have to stay positive," says Fiona Looby, Looby Tiles and Interiors. "Members can help each other just by keeping their ears open, and if you see a member going through a tough time, you make an effort to reach out to them and do your best to get them business. That's where BNI is a powerful group because everybody tries to help everybody else."
BNI Crossroads Portlaoise is always on the lookout for new members, so if you would like to explore the ways the chapter can assist your enterprise, you can find more details on the group's Facebook page or contact President Breda Colgan on 086 8178087.
You can also visit the website by clicking here.
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